The Long Beach Century Club provides funds to middle school sports teams across Long Beach, many of which receive minimal to no funding, said president Mike Fillipow. Photo courtesy of Stephen Dachman/The562.

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Since its 1957 founding, the Long Beach Century Club has supported thousands of amateur athletes throughout Long Beach.

While many of the club’s efforts go toward supporting middle school, high school and college teams, young athletes heading to national championships or Olympic trials can also receive funding from the club.

“Their first funding request, was they offered money to Billie Jean King to go to her first Wimbledon tournament way back when,” said treasurer Lucy Johnson.

Initially founded as part of the Chamber of Commerce of Long Beach by 100 members with the hope of honoring local athletes, the organization soon grew large enough to become its own separate entity, and has since established its presence in the community, said former president John Fylpaa.

Pre-pandemic, the nonprofit club reached nearly 500 members, making it the largest service organization in Long Beach.

Currently there are around 300 members of the organization, with more women than ever before, both as members and as part of the board, said Fylpaa.

“It’s been good for the organization, really, really good,” Fylpaa said. “I think we can all be very proud of promoting diversity throughout the city in all kinds of ways, and assuring that that happens.”

Finding ways to re-engage members since the pandemic has been at times difficult, said president Mike Fillipow, who hopes to see membership continue to increase in size and diversity, particularly regarding its younger members.

“We’re really pleased when we get a fresh infusion of ideas … and energy into our board and in our club,” Fillipow said.

While the club’s regular Tuesday night meetings tend to have 30 to 40 members in attendance, the organization’s three main events each year tend to bring out most of its members: the Middle School Banquet in May, the Hall of Fame Sports Banquet in June, and the upcoming Mayor’s Cup Golf Tournament, scheduled for September 15, returning for the first time in two years.

The golf tournament has allowed the organization to present $114,500 in scholarships to youth, at $2,500 each, while also supporting sports programs at Cal State Long Beach, Long Beach City College, and local high schools.

Over the years, responsibility to pay for sports programs has shifted towards parents, and away from schools or student bodies, said Fylpaa.

“I think there are a lot of young people who can’t participate because of that, there’s a lot of strains on their parents’ wallets, and so as those district funds have dwindled, they’ve had to reach out to try and get more help,” said Fylpaa. “That’s our mission, that’s really what our club was formed for, is to assist, and it’s nice that we can step up to the plate, to use a sports analogy, and help.”

As for middle school programs in particular, funding is often an issue, with most programs only given $450 a year from schools, if anything, said Fillipow.

“You see some of the jerseys that these kids are wearing, and they’ve been around for 10 years, and so we’ve offered that money to each of the middle schools to do a little bit to help out,” he said.

Apart from supporting middle school programs with annual donations, earlier in the pandemic, the Century Club also paid league fees to compensate for the additional lack of revenue at the time.

Middle school programs are largely supported through the Middle School Banquet, which invited winning teams from each school to the Cal State Long Beach pyramid for the first time this year, with about 1,000 guests in attendance including players and their families, due to the addition of a third division.

For many of the students, it’s their first time on a university campus, making the night even more special, said Fylpaa.

With the superintendent president of Long Beach Unified School District, the superintendent president of Long Beach City College, and the president of Cal State Long Beach in attendance, the night serves as an introduction to future educational pathways, said Fylpaa.

And for many students who may not go on to compete in high school athletics, the event also provides “their last hurrah,” Fylpaa said.

According to Fylpaa, the experiences and life lessons many youth gain from being involved in sports are invaluable.

“Coaches become like a surrogate parent in many ways, and so that’s why it’s needed … you can talk to any athlete who’s done well, and they’re always going to talk about their coaches, they’re going to talk about the experience they have on the field and courts, and what that did for them in life,” said Fylpaa. “The contests are one thing, but the growing of young people is really the more important part of it.”

For Fillipow, who taught science and coached swimming, cross country and track at Long Beach Poly until retiring a year ago, the time spent with students as a coach versus as a teacher was immense.

While teachers spend an hour a day, five days a week with students for nine months, coaches spend at least two hours a day with students, five to six days a week, plus day-long and overnight trips throughout the year, for four years, he said.

“Some of the Hall of Famers, you listen to them talk about where they were in middle school, in high school, and many of them were talking about how rough it was coming up, and that if they didn’t have that sports outlet, that guidance from the coach, that discipline from the coach, they would have been on the streets, or never made it out or done anything for themselves . . . for some of them, it’s their reason for staying in school,” said Fillipow. “It feels good to be part of that process, whether we’re helping out one kid or 10 kids or 100 kids, we know we’re helping kids, and we know we’re helping them make it.”

To get involved with Long Beach Century Club, check out the calendar for upcoming Tuesday night meetings at Boathouse on the Bay at 5 p.m., 190 N. Marina Drive. 

Online membership applications are also available, or support the club’s mission by making a contribution.

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